Singer/bassist Steve Gulley and singer/guitarist Tim Stafford are veteran bluegrass heavy hitters—between them, their resumes include, among other bands and their own solo albums, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Blue Highway, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, and Grasstowne. Beyond performing, they’re stellar composers with songs covered by a who’s who of artists.
They easily could have made a duo album constructed as a “best of” selection of original wellknown songs, but nope. What makes Dogwood Winter particularly exciting is that virtually (all but one) all of the tracks are fresh, newlyrecorded material, with not a dog (sorry) among them, all cowritten by the pair.
Though a few tracks might invite a quibble, this is pretty straightahead ’grass, even if one of the best songs is an exception, the plaintive “Nebraska Sky,” sporting a piano and percussion. But the two openers, “Why Ask Why?,” and the ripping “Just Along For The Ride,” establishes these guys as monster bluegrass men. By the time the third cut’s over, a darkhued “Land Of Milk And Honey,” even the most pious bluegrasser might cut them some slack and overlook their indiscretions. And “How Did That Turn Into My Problem?” contains one of the best putdowns bitterly bursting from bluegrass: “You’re still the best mistake I never made.”
The remaining songs contain similar bits of delightful moments embedded in melodies that start to sound familiar by the second hearing. Mandolinist Adam Steffey, banjoist/fiddler Ron Stewart and resonator guitarist/fiddler Justin Moses complete the studio band with power, precision and creative sensitivity. Michael Alvey and Mark Laws are the piano/percussion ringers, while none other than Dale Ann Bradley, among the greatest of bluegrass divas, provides some ultrahigh lonesome harmonies. Simply put, Dogwood Winter is contemporary bluegrass at its best. (Rural Rhythm, Box 660040, Dept. D, Arcadia, CA 91066, www.ruralrhythm.com.) DR